human-centered digital transformation

January 12, 2024 •

5 min reading

Dr. Inversini on human-centered digital transformation

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Welcome to a new Q&A feature where we shine the spotlight on our EHL research faculty and their current work. With a view to going behind the scenes to better understand the fascinating, impactful world of research, the EHL Institutional Visibility team will be regularly catching up with an EHL researcher whose work is making a difference in both classroom and industry.

Dr Alessandro Inversini, EHL Associate Professor of Marketing, is currently at the helm of the Resilient Tourism flagship – a 4-year project funded by the Innosuisse Flagship Initiative. It aims at supporting the datafication of the travel sector in Switzerland, in order to create resilient digitally supported services, business processes and business models.

What is the main topic of your current research?

As coordinator of the flagship project on Resilient Tourism, my main area of research for the past year and a half has been in human-centered digital transformation in the hospitality sector. In brief, I have been focusing on a less techno-centric approach to digital transformation to shed light on the human side of it. Practically speaking, I do not focus only on the technological components (i.e. robots, IOT and AI), my research focuses also on the people working, living and participating in the sector. In a nutshell, technology is seen as a means to empower human interaction and relationships.

What does the project actually look like?

It is composed of four independent yet interconnected sub-projects featuring Swiss research institutions and 34 partners of the economy. EHL has a coordination and cross-fertilization role. We ensure a smooth development of the project while building a Swiss-based community of people interested in travel innovation and digital transformation. It has been designed to have a systemic impact on the Swiss travel sector.

What role does sustainability play in your current research?

For me, it’s becoming clear that we are at a turning point in the hospitality and service sectors. We have seen that the issue of sustainability has unfortunately become little more than a compliance thing, a checklist to be ticked. It’s been hard for hospitality to deliver on the sustainability promises made a few years ago.

I come from a digital communication background, and increasingly I am meeting hoteliers who are instead following a regenerative tourism model. This is a paradigm that is bigger and broader than traditional sustainability; everything these hoteliers are doing in terms of their hospitality business contributes to the regeneration of nature and the social fabric.

Let’s stop being checklist-driven and instead develop a new mindset that can really benefit the industry. Of course, the human-centric digital transformation also plays a key role in this research topic. A guiding question in this aspect of my research is: How can tech help facilitate a more regenerative approach to tourism and more meaningful human transformative experiences.

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What are the conclusions you have drawn from this research?

I am passionate about human-centered digital transformation in hospitality. I’ve always been fascinated by smart destinations, smart cities, smart tourism. EHL’s human-centered DNA has helped me understand that technology should be used to empower human relationships rather than diminish them. At EHL, we are in a unique position where we can act as the bridge from customer centricity and human interaction towards a more innovative use of digital transformation with the aim of co-creating better customer experiences.

It is precisely the role of tech that is key in helping empower service staff thanks to advanced CRM technology, deeper customer understanding, ethnographic research - and possibly in the future, facial recognition, posture and gesture analysis. The use of advanced CRM allows for maximum personalization. Staff can track customer choices and make proactive suggestions accordingly. They are empowered to co-create experiences with the guests and, in short, deliver something that was not there before.

By putting staff at the center of product delivery and giving them access to customer personalization, they can co-create experiences that are out of the ordinary in hotels, restaurants, boutiques, etc. If I give my team a good understanding of the person in front of them and guide them on how to co-create a meaningful exchange, they feel empowered and engaged in creating potentially transformative experiences for their customers.

Let’s stop being checklist-driven and instead develop a new mindset that can really benefit the industry.

What do you mean by ‘transformative experience’?

That is to say, an experience is designed and staged in such a way that it affects the way in which the user sees the world. Transformation is triggered from the outside but impacts something within the person in a deeply memorable way.

As an example, Bliss and Stars in South Africa are an off-grid wilderness retreat where guests go to de-stress, slow down and restore. The holiday is made unique not only by a highly personalized service where guests are seen as ‘friends’, but moreover because they are taken to watch the stars in an unspoiled setting. The majority of guests are extremely touched by this experience. Relationships are formed with the natural world as well as with the staff. “It’s a place to transcend”, as the company says. This approach is part of the ‘transformation economy’ - a progression from Pine & Gilmore’s experience economy.

My conclusions are therefore based on ways of understanding how to use tech to empower and transform hospitality stakeholders, especially staff and guests. Technology should not be seen as a means of taking over jobs but as a means to empower and liberate much of the staff to be able to do something better, more useful, more relevant, more creative.

What are the key takeaways for hospitality stakeholders?

I’d say there are four main points:

  1. Find the right angle where technology can be an advantage to your business.
  2. Harness technology not just to save money and optimize processes, but rather to make richer and possibly transformative experiences.
  3. Ask yourself: How can all this translate into a relational change and ultimately into a transformational experience?
  4. I believe that people-to-people relationships will always be more important than people-to-tech relationships, which is especially true in the hospitality and service sectors.

How does this contribute to EHL thought leadership? Have you worked with researchers from other universities?

For the flagship project, we are working closely with the HES-SO Valais, the University of St. Gallen, the University of Applied Science Lucerne and the University of Applied Science Graubünden. Swiss tourism needs data-driven transformation to optimize flows, resources, and create new business models, experiences and products that will appeal to customers. My research is providing insights into how tech can enable service providers to create experiences that tend to be transformative and customer centered as much as possible.

As thought leaders at EHL, we are currently in a sweet spot since we are recognized worldwide as leaders of technology-enabled human-centric relationships in service. But we are now moving into the 21st century with tech and digital transformation as a given fact. How can we lead digital transformation whilst prioritizing the human touch? This is where our thought leadership lies, especially with regards to technology.

Where do you see this research leading (e.g., practical applications; can it be included in your classroom, in industry)?

Many businesses have understood that they can use technology to compete on savings and improve optimization. My aim is for this research to show that it’s time to go to the next level. We are heading towards a transformational economy that can be largely supported and enhanced by tech. In terms of schools and universities, many today have a digital transformation department but very few employ the angle of human-centricity to drive it.

This is where I’d like to position my current research: to further teaching, consultancy and thought leadership. Because of the richness of EHL’s human-centric culture and the importance of the topic, we will be launching new programs on human-centered digital transformation in the coming year.



Dr Alessandro Inversini is Associate Professor in Marketing at EHL. He is expert in digital marketing, digital communication, mobile marketing and eTourism with extensive international academic and industry experience.

His research has been funded and supported by public and private bodies in Switzerland, Italy and United Kingdom and has been published in prestigious international research outlets.

Dr Inversini is the winner of the EHL Research Award 2023.

About Alessandro's Research